He was born to strict Catholic parents in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1882 and, at thirteen years of age, was expected to work in a shoe factory for 10 cents a day. At that point, Rudolf E. Pigeon did what most young people only dream of doing: he ran away and joined the circus.
Pigeon began performing with the Menard troupe of acrobats, traveling the East Coast with the Hagenbeck Wallace Circus. In 1906, he moved out West and joined the Sells-Floto Circus, owned by Frederick Bonfils and Harry H. Tammen, co-owners of the Denver Post. Known professionally as Shorty Maynard, Pigeon developed routines that drew on his acrobatic ability and love of animals. The mule hurdle had him riding atop the animal’s head, then hanging on to its tail to be dragged around the sawdust ring several times. Pigeon created an audience favorite with Bill, the Trained Goose, and the duo performed tricks for a dozen seasons.
During the off-season, performers found other jobs and pursued other interests. For Pigeon, that interest was Ada Morgan, and they were married on December 28, 1912. By the time Pigeon joined the Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Baily Circus in 1916, he and Ada had started a family.
After years of circus life and travel, an exhausted Pigeon retired in 1920. He operated John’s Pool Hall in Sterling, which became a casualty of the farm recession after World War I. Pigeon then moved his family to Globeville and sought out his old friend Harry Tammen, who arranged a a job for him with Swift and Company. He worked there for more than twenty years.
Daughter Carol Christensen recalls, “I remember my dad walking across that bridge at 46th Avenue every morning at 5 am to go to work in the packinghouse. He didn’t make much money, but we always paid our bills on time.”
Pigeon lived quietly with his wife Ada, daughters Florence and Carol, and son Charles in Globeville, where he died on August 14, 1950 of heart failure.
The man who had “dedicated his life to making people laugh” would be pleased to know that he is still entertaining crowds. His gravestone, Block 13, Lot 9, at Denver's Riverside Cemetery is engraved with his image as a clown, and is a popular destination on tours.